Blindman's Tale

"Your eyes can deceive you - don't trust them." - some old guy

"Man, I'm beat. Ever since that new expansion pack of simulator missions was sent over here from High Command, Stryker's been running us into the ground," remarked an exhausted Gabriel "Wolfman" Leventhal.

His fellow Flight Officer, Jeff "Kallysto" Young, replied, "I'll say. I was hoping for some off time to sharpen up my dueling skills with Paladin or Valkyrie, but the way the training schedule's been booked, doesn't look like that'll happen any time soon."

The two members of Corsair Squadron walked into the Liberty Lounge and took their accustomed seats at the bar, ordering the usual - chocolate milk for Wolfman, a Karideph Honey Tea for Kallysto - then leaned back to survey the crowd. A few non-comms engaged in a raucous sabbacc game, Gemini's and Paladin's Ewok crew creating an ear-splitting noise on the bandstand, and-

"Hey, Wolfman," Kallysto nudged his squadmate. "Isn't that one of the new guys?" indicating the young man sitting ramrod-straight in his chair, with his legs crossed underneath him, seemingly staring at the wall.

Wolfman studied the figure for a second, then nodded. "Yeah, that visor-thingy-whatchamacallit on his head is pretty distinctive. Sheesh, never thought I'd live to see the day they'd let a *blind* guy into any sort of cockpit."

"Now, now," admonished Kallysto. "Never let it be said that the Liberty is not an equal-opportunity Alliance ship. Say, why don't we go over and chat? I'm curious to see what makes the dude tick. Haven't gotten a chance to talk with him since Hyl and I found him in that freighter."

Grabbing their drinks, the two pilots slowly made their way through the maze of chairs to arrive at the indicated man's table. When they approached, as if he had heard their footsteps, the young pilot turned to face them.

The newcomers immediately noticed the visor shading the man's eyes, which were shaped like a pair of wrap-around sunglasses. Kallysto winced as he noticed that the "earpieces" were implanted directly into the man's skull, and unconsciously flexed his own cybernetic arm. The visor gave the man an eerie quality, which was broken when he grinned easily.

"Good morn- I mean eveni- Ah, heck, who can tell on a starship anyway? I'm Bob Lin, Corsair Nine, callsign Blindman. I came in on that shuttle with Knight a few weeks back, but I haven't been around much - been taking care of some miscellaneous stuff because my situation is a bit... ah, unusual, shall we say? Won't you join me?" he asked, while pushing two chairs out from underneath the table with his foot.

Hesitantly, the two Corsairs sat down. This guy was being awfully talkative for someone who had just minutes before seemingly been in close conversation with the wall. As if he could read their thoughts, Blindman spoke again, "Nah, didn't interrupt anything - I wasn't doing anything particularly special, just trying some meditation techniques Rogue's XO showed me a few days ago. Frankly, it's awfully nice to get a chance to talk with some real live people who aren't shrinks or spooks. Thing is, most of the folks on this ship seem to fancy themselves the strong, silent types - and I think, where's the fun in that? Let me guess, you're probably wondering what in the galaxy is the brass thinking, letting a real live blind guy into a cockpit, who could possibly be flying your wing?"

Wolfman spoke up, "Actually, I was wondering how that visor thing of yours works."

"This?" Blindman tapped the visor with his index finger. "Well, let's see if I can remember the spiel the tech guys gave me... okay, got it. The wires in the earpiece go through a hole in my skull to connect to the doohickey, which attaches to the whatsit and sends little waves of electricity into my brain, giving me some black and white images to work with." He shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, I'm not really up to speed on all this new-fangled tech - all I know it that it lets me see something, and for me that's all I can ask for."

Kallysto leaned back in his chair and folded his hands. Along with Flight Officer Rafael "-Hyl-" Costa Guerra and his squad leader, he was one of the few remaining members of the inaugural Corsair group - the one that had participated in the recon mission-gone-bad that the crew had taken to calling "First Flight." A good portion of the others had transferred to Buccaneer, and the rest had retired or gone MIA.

Despite all that he'd seen and experienced, he still could not quite get a handle on this new guy. Not wanting to bluntly ask what he really wanted to know about - the blindness - he decided to aim for less sensitive areas. "What's that drink you're having? Looks a bit odd."

"This is a fruit blend - or, in colloquial terms, a 'smoothie.' Basically, you just take a whole mess of fruits - preferably picked fresh, then frozen - and throw them together in a blender with a little bit of liquid to allow for the blades to move. If you don't overdo the liquid, and maybe throw in some ice, you can get a nice, thick, sweet, ice-cold drink that's packed with enough nutrients, vitamins, and fiber to count as a meal." He grinned. "You might say that I'm something of a health nut - I know that Guardian goes for that tea of his, but I can't stand hot drinks - and after sampling the Liberty's mess, my mouth thanks me, but my heart begins clogging up with all that cholesterol. The nature of the drink means that I'll never get bored, because I can just vary the fruits I put in."

He tilted his head towards the ceiling for a moment, then "looked" back at Wolfman and Kallysto. "After all, it wouldn't do for me to abandon the drink that saved my life, would it now?"

Kallysto immediately turned towards the direction of the bar and yelled, "Mixer! Refills over here, stat!" He swiveled back to face his squadmates and grinned. "Sounds like story time."

[FLASH]

"Trainee Lin, I want to see you in my office in 45 mikes. Go hit the fresher." With that, the commanding officer of Contruum's starfighter training squadron turned sharply on his heel in proper Imperial fashion and walked off.

"Way to go Bob!" his fellow cadet whispered sarcastically. "How much more incompetent can you get? You fly like a blind man!" he remarked, before he, too, disappeared into the base's corridors.

Three years earlier, a younger Bob Lin had been rooted to the durasteel hangar bay floor in disappointment. His eyes traveled over the monstrous contraption that was his Z-95 simulator, but instead of seeing it as a testament to the skill of the programmers and craftsmen who built it, he saw it as what would be his downfall.

Washing out as a trainee. All those years of watching, listening, reading everything he could get his hands on... the dream of taking the controls of one of the Empire's finest technological marvels... they all evaporated before his eyes.

Smooth move, Lin, he berated himself. You couldn't just fail the mission. You couldn't just blow up and score it to the opposing side. No, you have to go and ram your instructor. You're gone, boyo.

As he trudged along back to the barracks, his mind ran the scenario over and over again in his mind. The target drone was dancing in front of his gunsight, rolling and diving just ahead of his guns. As the frustration built, Bob thrust the throttle to full and yanked the joystick to the right, anticipating the drone's break. The stream of lasers tracked along its path of flight...

"Trainee Four, break off, you're too close, break" [bzzzzzzzz] the comm cut off suddenly as Bob's simulator cockpit exploded into a burst of yellow-white light, signifying the death of his starfighter.

He reached the troop quarters, keyed the door open, and slumped onto his bunk, covering his face in his hands. After a few moments of anguished contemplation, he looked up and reached over to the datapad on his desk. Keying in a well-worn code, he brought up the datafiles on some of Contruum's most-noted pilots.

Paging through the files, his eyes lighted upon "Jesh Kragan," a young man with flaming red hair and intense green eyes. It had been Kragan who had noticed the youthful Lin hanging around Contruum's hangar complex, and pulled the strings to get him simulator time. Soon after that, Jesh had been transferred to the Imperial Academy for starfighter training, but not before earning Bob's gratefulness and respect, as well as friendship. It was one of Bob's hopes to one day become a pilot under Kragan's command.

Looks like that won't be happening, my friend, he thought.

Twenty minutes later, Bob found himself outside of his CO's office. Steeling himself for the humiliation, he keyed in a request for entry. A voice replied, "Come in."

Captain Jake Quinn was a man who commanded respect. Standing over 1.8 meters tall, with a strong jaw, graying hair and ice-cold blue eyes, Captain Quinn had served in the Imperial Navy as a TIE pilot and instructor for nearly fourteen standard years. His reputation as a caustic-mouthed tyrant was overlooked due to his constant production of top-notch candidates for the advanced starfighter program at the Imperial Academy every year.

Lin came into the office and paused before the desk, delivering a razor-sharp salute and holding it. Quinn did not even look up from the file he was working on, instead letting the young trainee stand rigidly for a good 30 seconds. Finally, he sighed and looked up.

"At ease, Trainee Lin." Bob brought his hand down from his forehead, clasped it behind his back, and moved his feet a shoulder-width apart.

The captain got up from his chair and began pacing behind the desk, glancing at Bob every few seconds. This did nothing to quiet the discomfiture that the younger man was feeling.

"What are we going to do with you?" asked Quinn in a tone much milder than Bob had ever heard him speak.

"Sir?"

"Shut up, Lin, it was a rhetorical question." Whoops.

Stopping his pacing behind his desk, Quinn reached down and picked up a datapad. "You are an interesting paradox, Mr. Lin. Your classroom scores are excellent - you have a good memory and a good grasp of history. Your aptitude scores indicate that you have a talent for flight control. The physical education department reports that you do remarkably well in the gym, particularly in unarmed combat. However," he continued, "Your sim scores simply do not measure up to what we expect out of our pilot training program here at Contruum Starbase."

Laying down the datapad, he looked intensely at Bob. "One would wonder why you wouldn't give up flying and take up a field more suited to your talents - flight control, intelligence, something of that nature."

"Permission to respond, sir?"

"Go ahead, Mr. Lin, it's why I called you here."

Bob's shoulders slumped slightly, and he looked at the ground. "Sir, this is probably going to be hard for you to understand. Last year, before entering the program, I made a promise to a friend of mine to see this training through to its end. Besides which, I've dreamed of becoming a pilot nearly all my life. It's not something that I want to give up, and if you'll keep me, I'd dearly like to stay on board. Sir."

Looking up again, Bob expected to see contempt or scorn in his commanding officer's eyes. What he found surprised him. In those eyes he found... compassion?

"This, ah, friend of yours. By chance would he go by the name of Jesh Kragan?"

Bob started. "Sir, you know him?"

Quinn sat back down at his desk. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Lin, a Lieutenant Kragan will be coming - or should I say, coming back - to visit our little home here, one week from tomorrow. The day that we begin training in the base's Z-95s." He looked down at what seemed to be a schedule. "He's supposed to give a pep talk of sorts to the trainees. And in his communique to me, he asked personally about you."

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. Grinning, he said, "Mr. Lin, I've decided that I'll let you stay on for a few more weeks - at least until we get you into a real ship. Sometimes that's enough to scare the incompetence out of the worst pilots. Just don't run into anyone anymore, all right, 'Blindman'?"

[FLASH]

Lieutenant Jesh Kragan's voice echoed out from the loudspeakers mounted over the landing field. "Congratulations on getting this far, trainees. As you take your first hours in actual starfighters, I wish you the best of luck. I am impressed by what you have accomplished and believe you capable of more. Glory to the Empire!"

"GLORY TO THE EMPIRE!" thundered thirty-six voices in reply.

Trainee Bob Lin, dressed in a full-fledged flightsuit and carrying his helmet, saluted the Imperial lieutenant and Captain Quinn upon the platform, then ran to his assigned fighter. Grinning widely, he recalled the friendly reunion he had with Jesh before the talk, and his spirits lifted. Now, more than ever, he was determined to obtain his piloting license.

He reached the Z-95 and keyed the cockpit-open sequence when he heard a somewhat innocuous-sounding succession of three beeps. He was beginning to look into the cockpit when his world exploded into white light.

[FLASH]

"What happened?" shouted Kragan, following the chaotic scene.

"Don't know!" the field medic replied in kind. "An explosion of some sort! Pilot's in bad shape, but the local med-unit doesn't have any bacta tanks handy!"

Jesh pushed his way through the crowd of people and examined the ruined starfighter's cockpit. Fingering through the still-smoldering debris, he found the remains of a BlasTech C-336 detonator - one that was favored for use by Imperial Intelligence agents.

"This was meant for me," he muttered to himself. Reaching into a pocket, he flicked on a commlink and keyed in a special code. Walking away from the commotion, he spoke in a very low voice. "Dad? We have a situation here. I need to meet with you ASAP. Also," he glanced over at the medics working frantically over the body of his young friend, "where can I find a bacta tank?"

[FLASH]

"Why can't I see? Why can't I take off the bandages over my eyes? WHY CAN'T I SEE?!"

The doctor's voice was soft with compassion. "I'm sorry, son. I'm afraid you'll never see again."

[FLASH]

His father's voice spoke out of the darkness, fraught with worry. "Bob, your mother and I are very scared for your well-being. We're trying to provide as many opportunities as we can for you, but you keep pushing us away! Why?"

The young, now handicapped former pilot trainee responded by rolling over on his bed, facing away from his parents. "Go away. I need to think."

His mother replied, "Son, you've dropped out of the School for the Blind that we enrolled you in, and you haven't spoken a word to your family or eaten with us in weeks!"

"LISTEN! I don't *want* to learn texture-language. I don't *want* to hang out with people. Just leave me alone, all right?"

His father sighed. "As your parents, I'm afraid we can't do that. Bob, we've done all we can. We thought we understood you, but apparently we were wrong. We're sending you to a psych-analyst on Coruscant. We've already chartered a bunk for you on an outgoing freighter. It leaves tomorrow morning."

[FLASH]

"Sir? Why are they stopping us? Are you carrying something you're not supposed to?"

The freighter captain, a grizzled man of middle-age years, turned and shoved Bob back into his seat. "Sit down, boy," he barked, "and let me do the talking. Under no circumstances are you to speak again, is that clear?"

Turning back to the comm console, the captain pressed down the transmit button. "TIE fighter Delta One, there seems to be some mistake. My cargo is completely legitimate, and I see no reason for this delay in my schedule-"

He never got to complete his sentence, as Delta One unleashed a long burst of emerald laser fire which impacted near the bridge of the freighter. The comm console exploded, sending a shard of durasteel through the captain's skull.

Lin felt the ship shift and begin to spin, as evidenced by the unpleasant vertigo he was experiencing. Pushing forward, smelling the coppery scent of blood in the cockpit, Bob frantically felt around for the ship's control stick. After toggling a series of switches - he would later find out that he dumped most of his fuel by accident - he found the stick and throttle. Trying to remember what he had learned under Captain Quinn's tutelage, he threw the throttle to full and attempted to fly on instinct.

He frowned. Although his sightless eyes remained blank, somehow he could see the TIEs swooping around outside of his viewport. They formed shadowy images in his mind, darting, swooping, firing-

He blinked. Firing?

Blindman yanked the stick over to the left, throwing the freighter into a sharp barrel roll that evaded the incoming green bolts. Seems like ol' Captain Stiff there had this thing all tricked out, he thought to himself. But now, to the matter at hand...

His hand darted out and found the switch that powered up the laser cannons mounted on the freighter. Will probably take ten seconds to power up... gotta buy more time.

Blindman brought the stick back and slightly right off center, throwing the freighter into an ungainly Wotan Weave. While some shots melted armor off the ship, the TIEs had been taken by surprise at the larger craft's maneuverability and speed.

Then, the auto-fire on the cannons kicked in.

Bolt after bolt of crimson laser fire erupted from the freighter, which used a state-of-the-art tracking system to direct red bolts directly into the ball cockpits of TIE fighters. Again taken by surprise, Delta flight exploded, one by one.

Except for one fighter. On Delta Three, the cannon shots winged the huge hexagonal solar panel, knocking the fighter into a spiral which ended in a fiery explosion at the aft of the freighter. The collision pitched Bob forward out of his seat, and after bouncing off the console, he lost consciousness.

[FLASH]

Waking up, it took a few moments for Bob to re-orient himself. Then, it all came flooding back to him... the challenge, the captain's murder, his grabbing the controls...

And then that weird spatial sensory thing. What *was* that?

Time to worry about that later. First, check the engines - nope, they're gone. Check the comm - it's gone.

Bob-o, you're in deep trouble.

After setting the freighter's controls to sound an alert if another ship was detected, Bob began to explore. Groping his way to the freighter's aft, he entered the cargo hold. Something was going to have to sustain him, and he didn't think that the idea of eating the captain would be very appetizing.

Following the edge of one crate to its edges, he unlatched the buckles and swung the crate open on its hinges. Frowning, he reached inside and pulled out a bottle. Twisting the cap open, he smelled it, then tipped his head back and lifted the bottle to his lips.

The thick, sweet concoction oozed into his mouth, filling it with saliva as he savored the flavor, then vanished down his throat into his stomach, where he immediately felt full. "I could get used to this," he said to the empty hold.

[FLASH]

"C'mon, Hyl, haven't you taken enough data already?" Kallysto rolled his eyes and smiled faintly at the enthusiasm showing through the voice of his wingman.

"Jeff, you know perfectly well that in the intelligence business, you can *never* get too many details. It's a good habit!" Hyl, Corsair Six, had serious ambitions of becoming the squadron's Intelligence Officer.

The two pilots were flying a long-range patrol in the Outer Rim. Corsair Squadron was going through a transitionary period, as Guardian, Hyp, Parody, Groznik, and Fireball had all transferred to Buccaneer, Stryker had been awarded the Corsair XO position, and others had retired or gone MIA. At the moment, Kallysto and Hyl were the senior non-staff members of the squadron, and as such, they were given a larger share of the duties while the new recruits were being initiated.

"Well, Hyl, I think it's about time to leave this party. This expanse of volume is so enthralling that it could bore me to death."

"Suit yourself, Kally. Let's see, next waypoint is just a few seconds at lightspeed away, engage hyperspace on my mark... mark."

The A-wings leapt into hyperspace, then reappeared a few seconds later in a different sector. Jeff was beginning to re-orient himself with regard to the stars when Hyl came back onto the comm, talking excitedly.

"Kallysto! Got a contact at 113.2. Looks like... yup, it's a shipwreck, all right. Since you're so bored, why don't you go inspect it? I'll finish up my scan here."

"Roger that." Corsair Eleven's A-wing peeled off and raced towards the freighter, gradually slowing down as it came closer.

Kallysto rubbed his eyes and peered again. Yup, he wasn't hallucinating - there was actually someone standing on the bridge waving!

"Hyl, we got a live one in here!"

[FLASH]

Lieutenant Adam "Guardian" Burns, Buccaneer Leader and the _Liberty's_ medical liaison to the starfighter wing, shook his head and sighed. "I don't get it, Vince. I've been through his medical examination top-down, down-up, sideways, upside-down, backwards... it just doesn't make sense. The guy can't see. He was showing elevated levels of a hormone indicating that he was going through severe depression. In my medical experience, there's just no way that his story can be verified - how the heck can a blind, manic-depressive guy possibly pilot a ship?"

Lieutenant Commander Vince "Stryker" Rambo, Corsair Leader, shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "I dunno, pal, but the guy has been begging me for a chance to fly. I don't know how to tell him nicely that he's *absolutely nuts* if he thinks that I'm gonna endanger the lives of the men and women aboard this ship-"

"If I may, gentlemen?"

The two squadron leaders turned at the sound of the voice, as Lieutenant Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison, Rogue Squadron's Executive Officer, entered the room. All three saluted.

"Guys, I've been talking with our hitchiker for a few hours now, and done a little bit of mind-probing. I believe that he has a small, latent ability with the Force that enables him to pilot."

Guardian asked, "What do you mean? Is it like a radar?"

"More or less. I'm sure you're all aware of situational awareness. Well, in many of the old Jedi texts that I've read, Jedi-in-training were encouraged to close their eyes when attempting to learn the nuances of sensing the Force, and the ripples created in it by all things, both living and non-living. It's my guess that Mr. Lin here has simply had that condition forced upon him."

He turned to Rambo. "Stryker, I think Sergeant-Major Dundee has an old, piece-of-junk Z-95 somewhere in the hangar bay. Why don't you let the guy try it out? I mean, if it turns out I'm wrong, you can always shoot out his engines. I'm sure he won't mind, he's gone through it before."

[FLASH]

Blindman whipped the fighter around in an Immelmann, bringing it head-to-head with the drone. A long burst of laserfire, and the drone exploded into an expanding ball of flaming gases.

From farther away, Stryker watched as the blind pilot throttled down, then threw the fighter into a twisting roll and dive that lined him up on another of the drones, while dodging laser fire from a nearby gunnery emplacement. As that drone, too, exploded, Stryker glanced down at his status board and was astonished to note that Blindman was slowly climbing the ranks towards some of the better scores...

[FLASH]

"Well, gents, that's basically the story as it stands now," Blindman grinned at Wolfman and Kallysto. After that exercise, Stryker offered me a spot in your squadron, figuring that if nothing else, y'all would get a kick out of telling the Cantina patrons that one of your squadmates was blind."

For the first time in a long while, Wolfman spoke. "That's some story, dude. Though I haven't seen you fly yet, let me be the first to proclaim that: I'm not ashamed to fly with the blind guy!"

The three Corsairs shared a hearty laugh that was interrupted with the blare of the intercom. "Corsair Nine, report to hangar bay seven for patrol duty. Corsair Nine..."

Sighing heavily, Blindman stood up. "Gents, thanks for an entertaining evening, but it sounds like I've got something to do." He saluted. "See you in the sky."

Ten minutes later, Blindman was strapped into his A-wing. The techs moved the sleek starfighter onto the Liberty's catapult, during which time Bob found himself reminiscing. About his friendship with Jesh, his respect for Captain Quinn. His parents. The second chance the Alliance had given him, both in showing him how to use his Force talent and offering him a spot in a squadron.

"Liberty Launch Control, this is Corsair Nine, ready for take-off."

"Roger that Nine, have a good flight. And welcome aboard."

"Thank you, Control."

With a smile on his face, Blindman was pushed back into his acceleration couch by the force of the catapult.

And the universe opened itself up to him.